Saturday, July 5, 2014


As I write these words, a cool and gentle Nashville night is being punctuated by bottle rockets and … (gosh, I cannot think of any other fireworks names due to wine from Costco. I’ll make some up: clackers, giant sky roses, frenetic street snakes, smokesters…).


So, yeah. It’s the Fourth of July and in honor of The Birth of This Great Nation, I spent the afternoon digging in the dirt trying to find things that used to belong to people who actually lived back when the nation was born.

I found a pharaoh. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Not long after I wrote the last post, I ventured back to the Ranchion for one final pokearound. It was hot and buggy and I could only last about an hour. Dug foil and a few clad pennies. So disappointing!

Until I got home and one of the clad pennies revealed itself to be this:

An 18?? Shield Nickel (can't read the date).
These were issued from 1866-1883 and
were the first five-cent coins referred
to as "nickels." So you can
stop wondering about that.

The above coin bagged me THIRD PLACE in the monthly coin competition at the June meeting of the Middle Tennessee Metal Detecting Club. 

One morning, Cheryl and I set out to explore the East Nashville yard of a charming young man who plays with the Nashville Symphony. Here’s my haul.

Cheryl found a different-looking tag with the same number.
We think they were tags off of telephone or electrical poles.
Who doesn't like a good tag?
But the real prize of the hunt was when he invited us inside and played a beautiful Brahms piece on the piano AND gave us each a quart of black raspberries. Way to own a home, homeowner!

We were having way too much fun to call it a day, so we headed to a lawn south of town. Cheryl and Doug had dug it before but it was new to me. The homeowners, an elderly couple, are the kind of people who say, “Oh, heavens, sweetie…  y’all come by anytime you want to! You don't even have to call ahead. It’s just grass; you can’t hurt a thing!” which is to say that these homeowners are saints of a special sort. Their footprints glow – that kind of thing.

I had a good day. It had rained recently and the ground was perfecto. Here’s what I found.

Clockwise, from top: uniform eagle button, cool buckle,
bumpy lead thing possibly pounded from bullet
 (any ideas?), 1911 penny, boot tip, two Minie balls,
one Enfield bullet, two Spencer carbine shells.
Center: Brooke ratchet plate sabot.
Whenever I'm digging on a battle site, I am very mindful of what went on here. One friend told me that this spot was particularly bloody. "Dead upon dead" as he put it. It's hard to reconcile with the gracious, verdant, quiet neighborhood it is now. 

Here are some more views of the item in the center, which caused quite the flurry on Facebook when I posted a photo of it wondering if it was maybe a piece of plumbing or lawn equipment.  Turns out a Brooke ratchet plate sabot is quite rare – a very particular bottom of a very particular artillery shell. People collect these items and I shall sell it, eventually, but for now it’s hanging around on my desk. I wrote a song about it.

Here’s another view of that beautiful buckle, in situ.

It's dated 1856 (?).

Also, the Enfield bullet.

Needless to say, we went back another day and I bagged a beautiful, huge horse shoe.

I like to imagine it was from a heroic horse in the Battle of Nashville, but that land was farmed long before the Civil War and long after too. So it might have just been from Old Bessie. I’ll never know for sure. It's currently taking a long, leisurely bubble bath in the electric soup, getting derusted.

Alone one day, I paid a quick visit to a house on Brush Hill that I bet I’ve hunted 20 times. It always delivers, particularly after a good rain. I’m also way more skilled with my Fisher F75 now and that results in new finds at old, “hunted out” haunts.

Here’s some of what I pulled out:

Some kind of shield (maybe off an old bike?), three
flat buttons, spoon I broke....

The gilt on that center button is really gorgeous. You know, back from the day when tradespeople put decorative patterns and gold gilt on the BACKS of buttons, so the muslin could enjoy looking at it.

Really love this too. Looks like a tiny lock from an old box or desk. If you look up close, it's covered with beautiful carvings. I just stared at them through my loop and thought about the nameless artisan who decided to put floral carvings no one ever notice on a tiny lock.

I honor thee, long-ago artisan. You were
really good at curlicues.
But this find really schnockered me. It was a delicate but consistent signal, right down by the road. Initially thought it was maybe part of a costume jewelry earring and threw it in the bag without really looking at it. But later, up close...


Also called sleeve-links!

Here's the back!

Late 1700s-early 1800s cufflinks with a picture of a leaping
fox and the word "TALLIO" on the top. I spent an embarrassing
amount of time researching the "Tallio" family of Italy
before learning that the word is an early version of "Tally-Ho!"

Hands down, one of my favorite finds of all time. Love thinking about the man whose fingers fastened them through the cuffs of homespun cloth, so long ago. And imagining the moment he dropped them, unknowing, hundreds of years ago. 

(Plink... they said, hitting the soft dirt; he never heard a thing.)

A couple of days ago, I got permission to explore a property I’ve been curious about for a while – a large, but very overgrown lot (think billions of ticks) right on the Cumberland, just north of where I live.  The homeowners had lost their keys and had been asking around the neighborhood for an MDer and, due to my stellar reputation (pushiness and borderline rude self-promotion) called Dirt Girl, (not realizing how much saliva had been dribbled re their property by same.) Though I tried valiantly, I never found the keys, but through the delightful kindness of these lovely people, permission was granted to hunt their yard and The Double Lot Next Door, so this afternoon, newbie Laura and I went over there.

It is an amazing spot, high above the Cumberland and not at all as overgrown as I’d thought. The chimney of an old house reached up out of the brush to the sky. This had been the summer cabin of a wealthy Nashvillian, who, according to his dirt, liked nothing better than to fire guns into the Cumberland. Yes, there were hundreds of shells – NOT THAT I’M COMPLAINING.

Laura and I valiantly dug them up for an hour or so along with a couple of other fun items.

Here’s some of our haul (we left out the pulltabs and crushed Miller cans to protect your gentle sensibilities).

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Really liked this:

Cool old brass hanger thing, shown here
against a photo of Stephen Gaskin, who
died a few days ago. Stephen was the
hippie iconoclast who founded The Farm
in Summertown, TN. His teachings
and those of his wife, Ina May, inform
my life in every way.

And this:
Piece of a pocketwatch from the American Watch Company,
Waltham, Mass. shown here against the cover of
my friend Korby Lenker's new CD.

And here, as promised, is my pharaoh. 

Posted it on FB so that other people could do my research for me, as I am a lazy ne'er-do-well. Turns out it’s a link in a 1920s-era belt. Love it!

Thanks for the ID, Johnny Pryor!

But the best moment of the day was dear Laura, walking up to me tentatively holding HER FIRST MINIE BALL!

"I think this is a bullet?" she said.

Yes. Yes, it is.

To celebrate, we went to Dairy Queen.